Speaking with CarAdvice at the launch of the 2014 BMW X5 in Vancouver last week, the company’s product line director, Peter Wolf, hinted that BMW doesn’t view manual transmissions as a big part of its future.
“It is no longer a question of sportiness as the automatic and dual-clutch gearboxes are quicker now [than manual transmissions]," Wolf said.
"They are also more efficient, which is a big advantage too. I don’t think we will see a manual gearbox much more in the future.”
In Europe, Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi are the top three manufacturers with the highest uptake of automatic transmission vehicles respectively, with Germany leading Europe in the move towards self-shifting vehicles.
In Australia, BMW is predominantly an automatic transmission business, thanks largely to the smooth-shifting eight-speed automatic that is available across most of the range and the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission for its performance derivatives.
Over the past six months, 98.5 per cent of BMWs sold in Australia have come equipped with an automatic transmission. Only the 1 Series and 3 Series are available with manual gearboxes as a special order. According to BMW, vehicles equipped with manual transmissions account for no more than one in every four cars sold across the entire Australian market.
Performance models such as the manual-only BMW 1 Series M and its bigger brother, the BMW M3, have played a big role in maintaining interest in manual gearboxes but when both transmission choices are offered, manual gearboxes are not only hinder performance (slower 0-100km/h times) but also hurt fuel economy.
Wolf suggests that moving up from an eight-speed transmission to a nine- or 10-speed is not something BMW is actively looking to do for the moment, believing that the efficiency gains attainable by adding gears beyond eight are not as substantial as going from a five- or six-speed to an eight-speed.
The soon to be launched BMW M4 coupe and M3 sedan are said to be available with a manual gearbox (unconfirmed at this stage), but it’s likely that this generation will mark the last time a manual transmission is offered.
The BMW M5 is only available with a manual transmission in North America where, surprisingly, market demand has led BMW to put a six-speed gearbox in its 5 Series performance flagship as a no-cost option to the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission.
Should BMW ditch manual transmissions altogether?